Walking into the theatre above the Bread and Roses pub for Who You Are and What You Do is like arriving at a child’s birthday party. The audience sit around the edge of the room, which is littered with balloons, streamers, a Christmas tree, plastic boxes of props and Katy Perry blasting out of the speakers. The childish atmosphere and village hall vibes lure you into a false sense of security, as what follows is an intriguing and challenging evening of theatre.
The show’s gimmick is that each night the order of the play changes, as the cast invite members of the audience to spin a wheel. While the pieces of paper that are taken off the wheel and hung from the ceiling don’t mean much to the audience, it is these six seemingly random words and phrases that dictate the play’s order. Clearly, under normal circumstances you are unlikely to see the show on multiple nights, so this procedure could feel like a needless addition. Yet even for a single attendance, it does force you to consider the effect of what happens and how the play order has impacted this.
It’s hard to describe the plot of Who You Are and What You Do: at times it is truly farcical and ludicrous, with a grown man acting the role of a spoilt child in a dinosaur costume, a child star turned acting coach trying to get a woman to laugh, and a Colombian woman writing her online dating profile. You find yourself laughing along, relaxing into the comedy. Then, suddenly, the play shifts; it’s about rape, violence, home repossession and suicide. This is where a change in the play’s order affects the way you feel – the way you react. It’s hard to explain without spoilers, but some of those scenes that were so funny last night would be less amusing if told in a different order. And perhaps some of the moments that were slightly bemusing would have made more sense.
Given the simple setup of the staging and the confusing nature of the plot, there is a lot riding on the cast. It could easily feel like a drama school exercise, from the pieces of paper dictating the plot to the small elements of audience participation. Luckily, all six actors are fantastic, driving the pace of the play with humour, compassion, and emotion. Mohana Rajapogal gives a heart-wrenching performance as Sandy, and when faced with an impossible situation her emotion leaves the whole room on edge. Meanwhile, Valeria Rodríguez’s seductive performance is so captivating, you could feel the audience falling in love with her.
It’s always a bit risky to add a gimmick to a show, and it doesn’t always work, but with Who You Are and What You Do writer Hugh Dichmont creates an intriguing world of revelations and horrors, paired with moments of hilarity. Sometimes the change is so startling that it leaves you breathless. I was left pondering what impact an alteration in the play’s order would have had on the performance that I saw, although the genius of the writing lies in the fact that you can’t tell at which point each section begins and ends. I suppose I’ll just have to go back, and hope that the wheel chooses a different order the next time around.
Written by: Hugh Dichmont
Directed by: Tom Ward
Produced by: Natalie Chan
Who Are You And What You Do plays at Bread and Roses Theatre until 2 April. Further information and bookings here.
You can also find out more about the show in our recent interview with the creative team here.